In 1990 our first CASA volunteer was appointed to advocate for one child’s best interest in Talbot
County. Since that first appointment our organization has served hundreds of children, and in
thousands of ways our advocacy has helped improve outcomes for these children. Now, CASA of
the Mid-Shore is a regional program serving four counties: Talbot, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, and
Kent. One CASA volunteer making a positive difference by speaking up for one child is our
proverbial North Star, providing an unwavering, hopeful light. It guides us in the certainty that a
better future is a real possibility for each child we serve.
If asked in 1990 for my vision of our program, my answer would have referenced our goal to
provide a Court Appointed Special Advocate to 100% of the children who need our services. Who
knew then that this vision would be 20/20? Serendipitously, as we celebrate 30 years of service we
enter the year 2020 serving 100% of the vulnerable children referred to our program. We are
proud of the fact that we achieved and are maintaining our goal of providing a CASA volunteer to
every child referred to us by the Circuit Courts in our region. As milestones go, this is enormous,
and it is due to the collective efforts and ongoing commitment of our incredible volunteers,
Board members, staff, judges and magistrates, friends, donors, and grantors that we have
achieved this historic landmark.
So what is ahead for CASA of the Mid-Shore as we hit our 30th anniversary? Knowing there will be
situations involving more Children in Need of Assistance who will benefit from our advocacy, we
plan to be here to help them just as we’ve done for the past 30 years. Simultaneously, we are embarking on a pilot project with the Dorchester County Circuit Court’s Truancy Reduction Program and the Dorchester County Public Schools (DCPS). The Honorable Brett Wilson and his Truancy Reduction Court team, deeply troubled about young children with numerous unexcused absences from school, asked for CASA’s assistance. Judge Wilson’s concern led him to the groundbreaking concept of appointing CASA volunteers to some of these children’s cases. With assistance from the Maryland Judiciary’s Department of Family Administration, we will pilot an advocacy project in Truancy Reduction Court for young children as young as 6 years of age found by the Court to be truant and in need of services.Chronic truancy is a big deal and a scary predictor of serious risk for children and families. It is often a symptom of deeper family or community issues.
Research reflects that truant children are disproportionately: youth of color; from low-income families; youth with special education needs; youth and families with mental health needs; and/or youth who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Often these children are at increased risk of adverse experiences including maltreatment, poor academic achievement, a low likelihood of graduating from high school, low self-esteem, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, mental health issues, hunger, and malnourishment. National studies have found that as many as 88% of truant youth qualify for free or reduced meals. When those same children miss school, they not only lose academic ground, they may also be missing up to two meals per day. The bad news is truancy continues to increase, as do waiting lists for needed services to truant children and their families.
The good news is that our Court Appointed Special advocacy model has long shown effectiveness in connecting with youth. National studies show our model of one-on-one best-interest advocacy and mentoring for children, collaboration with agency partners, and
heightened assistance to the Court works. One-on-one supportive relationships between CASAs and youth have
proven to be particularly effective with youth in at-risk situations. By gathering information for the Court and advocating for children’s best interest, CASA volunteers have opportunities to guide truant youth and their families and assist them in developing their fullest potentials. Celebrating 30 years of unique service to vulnerable children and looking ahead at groundbreaking avenues for additional advocacy to local children, we will keep our eyes on our own North Star. It will continue to guide us in shining a light of hope, one child at a time.